When unsettled issues are allowed to linger on for a long time, they tend to fade away from the memory of the people and die a sudden death. Lingering issues which disappear from political discourse leave the field open for minor stakeholders, which suddenly metamorphose into game changers. The unsettled issue of Kashmir has for last sixty decades been in active political discourse of India and Pakistan, but Mumbai attacks led to freezing of diplomatic channels between the two countries and have put Kashmir issue out of public debate.
Today, simmering anger among the people over the unsolved agenda of Kashmir has gone backstage leaving the arena open to other issues like elections, corruption and regional politics. The public mood in the State had always been characterized by this mercurial behavioral tendency and like a pendulum; it oscillates from being in the streets for a cause one day to giving bribes to corrupt politicians the second day.
In this ever changing scenario, sustained movement for a cause becomes difficult as motivated numbers are small and leadership is weak and dependent. This also allows leverage to divergent forces to play their part. It is this lack of convergence of ideas added with gaps in the leadership that the Kashmir issue was allowed to be hijacked by the political leadership of India and Pakistan. Whatever people here might think or crave for, unless there is an interface between these two countries, nothing materializes. So much so, that the real stakeholders- the people of the state have been relegated to being a third party.
This third party servility was again on display as people of the state watched with bated breath the outcome of talks between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of a private visit by Zardari. It’s been three years since the two countries have been in a cold war kind of a situation, but their earlier efforts that led to confidence building measures on Kashmir are worst hit. Cross border trade along LoC is reduced to a trickle, the weekly bus service cross LoC is irregular and the decision to provide greater number of opportunities to the people of J&K living on both sides of LoC to interact with each other through soft borders and opening of more number of road links are issues put on the back burner. Such is the plight of the people of the State, whose wishes are held hostage to the relations between two nations is unprecedented, and what is worst that we have resolved to our fate.
Nevertheless the visit of President Zardari has a lot of significance in breaking the ice between the two nations. After the Mumbai attack in 2008, it is the first time Pakistan has taken an initiative to improve its relations with India. Even though both the nations are cautious and taking their own time to move on contentious issues, the fact that both are trying to rebuild their relations should not be overlooked. The fact that both the leaders realized that time has come to move ahead is a positive sign. While Kashmir may not be the favorite subject for India, it is essential that problem issues like Siachen and Sir Creek which is taxing both the nations in terms of loss of money and manpower should be taken up. Pakistan has to realize that India cannot let off the issue of handing over Hafiz Sayed for involvement in Mumbai attack as it’s both an emotive as well as a diplomatic issue for Indians. Pakistan in its turn has been raising the issue of Samjhauta Express blast. In this game of passing the buck, both the countries need to realize that peace at whatever cost is worth the bargain and should not be sacrificed due to missed opportunities.
Though Kashmir was also discussed in the minnows of this private visit, but there was a general understanding between the two leaders to go step by step on the issue. While step by step is a wise decision, but to presume that Kashmir issue can be resolved only between the two neighbors would be preposterous. We have already seen that both the countries have been discussing Kashmir at different forums. Many agreements have also been signed to arrive at an amicable solution to Kashmir issue, but all these measures have proved to be failures. Unless and until the people of J&K are made party to the talks between the two countries or their aspirations are given expression, there can be no long term solution to this issue.
J&K already enjoys a unique status of being a state within the state due to Article 370 of Indian Constitution. Its special status amalgamated with its unique social and regional fabric makes it imperative that the solution to this issue emanate from the wishes of the people itself.
Time for the two nations for arriving at some solution through armed and diplomatic means has passed; it is the verdict of the people that needs to be honoured by the two countries. When fate of a nation is let out of the hands of its people, it brews revolution. When the power to question is snatched, it brews resentment. When voices across the line drawn through the heart of nation are silenced, it is time to speak up…
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